The underside of plutocrat philanthropy

Submitted by AWL on 11 May, 2021 - 6:15 Author: Zack Muddle
Bill Gates

Tin-hat conspiracy theory claims that vaccinations are a ploy by Bill Gates to implant tracking microchips in our arms communicate at least two lies. There’s the obvious lie, that vaccines contain microchips. Then there’s the subtle, implicit lie: that Bill Gates is helping net global vaccination efforts.

Way back in April 2020, Oxford University pledged that they would make any technologies that they develop against the Covid-19 pandemic available under “non-exclusive, royalty-free licences to support” free or cost-price supply. They only pledged to do this for the duration of the pandemic, but it would have applied to — at the very least — what was to become the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

A few weeks later, Oxford backtracked, and signed an exclusive deal with AstraZeneca, given the pharmaceutical corporation full and exclusive rights, with no guarantee of low-pricing. Why?

Oxford had been persuaded to change course by the “Gates Foundation”, and by Bill Gates himself.

Throughout the pandemic, and for long before it, Bill Gates has been using the power that his billions afford him to fight tooth-and-nail for so-called “free trade” backed up by a tightly policed set of “intellectual property” restrictions.

Intellectual property, politics and profit

The threat to the sanctity of intellectual property rights, and to the belief that their rigid policing is good, has seldom been sharper and more public than in the fight over global Covid-19 vaccination.

Gates is often lauded for giving significant funding to COVAX, Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, as well as all three of COVAX’s directing organisations: “Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance”; CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), and the WHO (World Health Organization). Gates and foundation contribute to many other causes too. But these are not neutral “gifts”.

Gates has a political and ideological agenda, and whether there is explicit intervention or not, receipt of or reliance upon Gates foundation funding shapes the direction of the organisations that receive it, the organisations that try to, and the prominence of those that don’t.

COVAX only aims to provide low income countries with a maximum of enough supplies to vaccinate 20% of their population. Their supply so far is insufficient and too slow. And it aims to facilitate a continuation of the status quo whereby billions in public finances are funnelled into pharmaceutical corporations, but without requiring them to hand over or relinquish their “intellectual property” (IP) in return.

Global ramifications

There is a global shortage of vaccinations. The world’s richest states purchase more than they can use, while many of the world’s poorest states have received zero vaccines. But even if they were more equitably distributed, production and distribution would be painfully slow.

Intellectual property hoarding and protections prevent factories being constructed around the world to produce cost-price vaccines using existing recipes, instead forcing states in the global south to purchase them from the global north, often at higher prices than states in the global north pay.

A year ago, the WHO’s “COVID-19 Technology Access Pool” (C-TAP) looked like a promising step towards sharing of IP and other knowledge. Yet it has been outstripped by the WHO’s Gates-sponsored and promoted “Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator” (ACT-A).

Once again, IP, profit, and control remain privatised and increasingly centralised, even as funding for research, development risks, and the product itself are increasingly socialised; and an ideological commitment to IP and the free market defended.

The Gates Foundation also funds, and thereby indirectly influences, many news organisations. This provides yet another arm in its ideological battle.

The same IP regime, that is, which facilitates the growth of lucrative monopolistic corporations — such as Microsoft, from which Bill Gates spent around two decades being the richest person in the world.

The harmful impacts of this so-called “philanthropist” from his philanthropy-cum-lobbying are far from unique. As with the corruption and sleaze at the heart of this Tory government, it is endemic to capitalism, and particularly to the million- and billionaire sections of the ruling class. Gates — and the focus on vaccines, eliding his anti-union and environmentally harmful “philanthropic” activities — merely provided an illustrative example.

Such individuals have built their wealth by exploiting hundreds of thousands, millions of workers. Their wealth is built through our labour — which they control — merely giving us back in wages enough to survive. If they donate a section of their wealth to “charity” it still leave them with almost unfathomably large fortunes. It is no more “moral” or “philanthropic” than someone who mugs you, stealing all your possessions, but then throwing some coppers in a charity pot to ease their conscience — before doing it all over again.

In fact, Bill Gates — like other billionaire philanthropists — continues to get richer. Meanwhile, the Gates foundation is tax-exempt, lobbies for his ideology and interests, and has long-standing investments in pharmaceutical corporations such as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

His intentions in doing so are irrelevant. Socialists can have no truck with conspiratorial world-views which identify capitalism’s evils in the malicious intentions of a small number of cartoonishly ruthless supervillains. The problem is systemic.

Gates likely genuinely believes that his foundation is improving the world. But his ideology and priorities are shaped by his interests and experiences — as a successful member of the capitalist ruling class. They are the undemocratic decisions of an unaccountable individual, powered by wealth stolen from our class.

Not that Gates, or his class, is entirely immune to pressure. Biden’s administration recently, under pressure, has signalled support for a temporary suspension to intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines. This was against Gates’ lobbying.

The administration committed to a narrow scope of this waiver than proposed elsewhere, the commitment has not yet borne fruit, and it has been accompanies with statements that “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections”. Yet it shows that pressure is mounting.

Days after, Gates’ foundation followed suit, conceding to support of “a narrow waiver during the pandemic”. This came after they received heightened criticism, and as they presumably recognise which way the wind is blowing.

The working class must force much greater concessions from the ruling class than liberal “philanthropist” billionaires will readily hand us. We must fight to reclaim power over the wealth we create, to be used democratically in the interests of all.

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